FORT WORTH Something unusual happened Sunday night at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s Concerts in the Garden series at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden — a classical music performance broke out.
Although this summer music festival is sponsored by the symphony, the concerts in the series have come to be dominated by tribute bands that may or may not be backed by the orchestra in performance. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is obviously what the audiences want to hear. But for fans of the symphony when it plays under a roof, Sunday’s concert was a welcome opportunity to enjoy the orchestra doing what it does best in a highly relaxed setting.
And better still, it turned out to offer the chance to enjoy one of the sponsoring organization’s best players in a well-deserved solo spotlight.
True to its title of Moonlight and Mozart, the concert opened under the baton of Andres Franco (the associate conductor of the symphony who also serves as artistic director of this summer series) with a matter-of-fact rendering of the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro that was fittingly brisk but never rushed, as is often the case with pieces that are overly familiar to the players.
Next came the most obvious choice for this themed evening: Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), which was commissioned and composed for an outdoor presentation not unlike this one. It got off to a fine start, lost its way in its second section but then gelled nicely in the closing Rondo. This wonderful bit of Viennese froth was followed by a much meatier serving of three of the four movements of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, in which the reeds came through particularly well.
The concert’s second half brought an eclectic, but well-chosen, set of works from four composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The first of the six works presented in the latter half was the overture to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. It succeeded in doing something that nothing in the first half had: It got the chattery audience to quiet down and listen.
And just in the nick of time, because the concert’s best moment was nearing.
After a hearty performance of Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, orchestra concertmaster Michael Shih came on to play the featured violin part in Pablo de Sarasate’s hauntingly beautiful and devilishly demanding Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs). Even in the less than ideal atmosphere of the garden (where the orchestra needs to be amplified, but not the cicadas), Shih’s performance was captivating. He was just as effective at nurturing the showpiece’s achingly romantic passages as he was at navigating the treacherous waters of its pizzicato measures. And no matter what sort of virtuosity he was demonstrating, he never slipped in maintaining the work’s gypsy character.
The concert finished with three of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances that proved to be the perfect way to charge into the evening’s closing fireworks display.
So for the crowd of just under 1,200, it was a treat to hear the fine musicians of the symphony playing something in the garden that was not composed by Robert Plant or John Williams. And it was especially a bonus to hear the superb Michael Shih being a soloist instead of supporting a soloist.